[No Excuse Zone] – A Capital Offense in Weather Forecasting

Ever wonder why almost all forecasts from the National Weather Service still appear in all capital letters, and contain no such punctuation marks as quotations, semicolons, colons, or even commas? It is hard, rigid policy, held over from the 1950s through 1970s era: NWS forecasters are not allowed to write their forecasts and discussions in proper English!

The reason used to be (and for all we know, may still be) that teletypes cannot handle lower case letters or any punctuation besides periods, hyphens and a forward slant. Yes, the teletype: that rusty, dusty relic of many decades gone, when 8 track tapes and rotary dial phones seemed advanced! In the age of worldwide broadband Internet, satellite communications and GPS navigation, where today’s top technology in all of the above is obsolete next year, bulletins from your National Weather Service still must be backward compatible with teletypes. Therefore, forecasts appear like this, still, five years into the 21st century:

SHORTWAVE TROUGH -- NOW EVIDENT IN MOISTURE CHANNEL IMAGERY OVER AZ/UT --
IS EXPECTED TO EJECT NEWD TONIGHT...REACHING CENTRAL HIGH PLAINS
BY 21Z FRIDAY AFTERNOON.

Apparently the star (*) somehow became digestible by teletypes (the next generation of teletypes?) during the past few years, because that symbol now appears in warnings. For example:


THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN FORT WORTH HAS ISSUED A
* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR...
BOSQUE COUNTY IN NORTH CENTRAL TEXAS
* UNTIL 315 AM CST

I’ve heard several reasons why this bizarre, archaic style remains a requirement imposed on forecasters. Usually they revolve around continuing maritime and/or military use of teletypes and teletype emulators.

Now let’s get this straight. The Department of Defense can count the freckles on your face from satellites in space, but can’t decode a damn comma in an NWS forecast? I don’t buy it.

The solution, as with most things, is brutally simple: proper English writing, at once. Forget teletypes. Immediately institute requirements that manually typed forecast text be in proper English, with all the correct punctuation and capitalization, and that all new software encoders and decoders allow for it and format text that way. Retrofit existing pre-formats with the capability.

Problem solved.

Of course, I bet there is a book full of excuses why this hasn’t been done by the year 2005, despite its obvious merits and despite years and years of feedback requesting it. Hence…

Bill O’Reilly has the No Spin Zone, which is a truly beautiful place for folks like him (and me) who detest nonsense, waffling, evasion, noncommitment, pandering, buck-passing and double talk. So I am creating the No Excuse Zone to be an outpost of the No Spin Zone, and as a recurring theme in this BLOG. Discussion on this or any No Excuse Zone topic is always welcome; but don’t bring any excuses into it or they will be called out.

[Stay tuned for more simple, straightforward solutions to common problems, right here in the No Excuse Zone.]



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